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A Discussion With ‘Resident Evil 2’s’ Re-Creators

Its existence wasn’t a surprise, but one of the dark horse candidates for E3’s best of show lists was unexpected – a tour-de-force, top-to-bottom remake of “Resident Evil 2,” one of the most beloved games of all time. Publisher/developer Capcom has gone back to the well with “Resident Evil” a number of times with various re-releases and remakes for games in the series, but something about this one seems special, particularly coming off the heels of 2017’s “Resident Evil 7,” seen as a return to form after “Resident Evil’s” image took a precipitous tumble toward the end of the last console generation. Variety had the chance to sit down with producers Yoshiaki Hirabayashi and Tsuyoshi Kanda about “Resident Evil 2’s” resurrection, its over-the-top gore, and why “Resident Evil” is a series that justifies so many remakes and remasters. This interview was conducted with the assistance of a translator and has been lightly edited for clarity.

One of the things about “Resident Evil 2” that really grabbed my attention growing up was George Romero’s involvement with “Biohazard 2’s” marketing in Japan. What struck me as I was playing this remake of “Resident Evil 2” was that the tone and tenor very much reminded me of the Romero “Dead” films, including the ramp-up of the gore. “Resident Evil” has always been a pretty graphic series, but never like this, especially with the abdominal dismemberment in particular (editor’s note: this is a zombie movie trope in which a character is torn apart at the abdomen/torso, one of the more gruesome motifs in horror films), which are sort of quintessentially George Romero. So I was wondering if that lineage had any influence on the direction you’re taking with the remake, and where you’re coming from with this.

Yoshiaki Hirabayashi: You know your stuff, with the Japanese adverts. Since the original games were influenced by the Romero films, indirectly, that influence may come into play here. But our main goal is taking the original, classic title and trying to reimagine it for an entirely new audience.

What do you think are the defining elements of “Resident Evil 2”? In the series it is sort of unique, and the series radically reinvented itself repeatedly over the course of subsequent games with “Code Veronica” and then “Resident Evil 4.” What’s special about “Resident Evil 2” that needs to be captured in this remake?

Tsuyoshi Kanda: I think the game has a really great essence. It’s a survival horror experience, but it’s also got this kind of storyline and drama going on, and it’s got entertainment aspects that aren’t just about constant horror. It’s got a combination of factor, and the blend of those aspects really make it what it is. We’ve tried to respect and recapture the feel of that with the reimagined game.

Is this a lot of the same team that worked on “Resident Evil 7?”

YH: The team is really mixed in terms of their experience with previous games in the series. We do have some “Resident Evil 7” veterans, including Kanda, who was producer on the title, and myself, I’ve been working on the series since the Gamecube remaster. The directors, one of them was a “Resident Evil 2” staffer, one of them has been on the series since the original “Resident Evil,” a lot of members have been involved in various “Resident Evils.”

“Resident Evil 2 Remake” is obviously very different from “Resident Evil 7,” it’s going for something very different. And I feel like the series has a tradition of doing that. Do you think it’s important to the series that it change identity and do something different with every game? And why is that important?

TK: The series has changed a lot, as you mentioned. The original three games had fixed camera perspectives, and it seems like every three games or so there’s a sea change in perspective and style. We always consider as we move through the series, what is “Resident Evil,” and what is the essence of the experience we want players to have? As time moves forward and technology advances and new graphical capabilities become possible we’re always able to challenge ourselves as to what “Resident Evil” really is and things that flourish under that will be a camera system or a gameplay system. But I think the ongoing change is a constant, ongoing reexamination and reinterpretation of the essence of “Resident Evil” as a series. Especially now, when it comes to this “Resident Evil 2” title, that has an original that it’s based on, and everyone can see it and compare it, it’s really important for us to again look inside and ask “What is the essence of ‘Resident Evil 2,’ and how does it relate to the series as a whole?” And how can we make a reimagined version of that that’s faithful and respectful to that legacy and that serves as an evolution for “Resident Evil?”

Speaking to the increase in graphical fidelity, this feels like the goriest of the “Resident Evil” games by far. Was there any discussion about how far might be too far, or concerns about censorship in certain territories?

TK: There’s a certain level of grotesque things or gore that I think is always going to be necessary in a “Resident Evil” title, because it’s just the genre. When you’re trying to present horror it’s one of the most effective tools at your disposal. It’s one of the ways we try to express our creativity with these games. Now that we’re using our internal RE engine, which we used in “Resident Evil 7,” it’s a really beautiful looking engine and it makes these photorealistic environments really pop and come to life. When you put that in the context of a horror game and it’s set in an area that you can really explore and backtrack through, Metroidvania style, and have an adventure in it, we have a gameplay experience in mind, and part of that is going to be, amongst the adventure, these pulses of horror, shock and gore. We have in mind this idea of what it is and how it should be, and it gives us a good guideline as far as how far we can go with gore, and whether need to draw a line and say “This is enough to get the effect we need, we don’t need to go any further.”

YH: We want people to enjoy the game at the end of the day, so it’s not an endless parade of disgusting gore, because that wouldn’t be fun.

Some people might be into that.

YH: (laughs) The goal is that people will have a shock and then a release of that tension. That’s why a lot of people enjoy horror in general. So we’re challenging ourselves to push it as far as we can, but we’re not going to go to the extent that it starts to spoil the rest of the experience, because we want to have an overall enjoyable entertainment experience.

There are a lot of remakes and remasters that vary in the degree to which they are faithful to the source material. This very much feels like a completely new game, from top to bottom. Why the dedication to revisiting this material in this way? What is it about “Resident Evil” that warrants that sort of treatment? It feels very respectful, and successful, based on my time with it so far, but it is far above and beyond what most developers are doing with these remasters and revisitations.

YH: We’re fans of the original game, and it’s got a really special place in my heart as an almost perfect piece of entertainment. When we want to bring a game back to people, we want people to experience the way we did. We loved it so much we wanted to give it to other people, and we want to figure out how to do that. When a game is 20 years old, it might be difficult for the current generation of gamers to see past the limitations or frustrations present in a game that old, to get to the core, the meat of the experience. They might put the controller down before they get to the parts that we want them to love because they can’t get over the frustration. It could even be old fashioned controls. So we don’t just want to remaster it and have a copied version of it, slightly updated. I think the best way to bring that experience and that feeling we had to more players was to make a cutting edge update, a reimagining using the absolutely latest technology. It may look different, but the feeling is there. Whenever people play this, they should get the same feeling we got back in the day, even though the outer layers are different. And the fact that it’s got to feel like “Resident Evil 2” is our firm concept. That’s not going to change.

“Resident Evil” as a series has seen a number of these revisitings, going back to “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” and “Resident Evil” for Gamecube. What do you think it is about “Resident Evil” that lends itself to this kind of revisitation as a series? Because it’s done it repeatedly and it’s done it pretty successfully.

TK: I think, personally, that it lends itself to being revisited because the players also like to revisit it, and they have with each game. Some people have said “RE2” was their first game in the series, and they played it and it was scary as hell, and when they finished it, a few months later they’d say they wanted to go back and relive those thrills and that experience. It’s a series that lends itself to even the same game having a certain amount of replayability, it isn’t a one and done thing. I think with that in mind amongst the playerbase, a version of the game that lets you revisit it and find new things, or have additional experiences with new parts, that’s a proposition that’s a really good match with the players.

One of the things that seems to be apparent as companies try to go back and reboot or remake games from, say, the Playstation era, is that a lot of those games were really ambitious, and the scope of them doesn’t necessarily make a cost-effective remake viable now. The thing that occurs to me here is that Leon and Claire were separate playable characters, and things you’d do as one character would reverberate for the other and make for a very different game. Is that being retained? And is that something that’s difficult to do with a modern game and modern budgets?

YH: Just to say up front, I don’t think we need to compromise on anything. We’re not compromising because it’s more expensive to make a good-looking game these days. But regarding having two stories – in the original game you had the A-B story with Leon and Claire – that was a choice made at the time to bring a unique storytelling experience that hadn’t been done before. But in the modern context, in 2019, in order to bring you the kind of intense and deep storytelling experience we want you to have, given that this is something that has evolved since the first game came out, we do want to streamline the approach. We’re not compromising because it would cost too much to recreate this game photorealistically, but more because we’re making decisions as to how to get that experience across to you in the best way. They called it the “zapping system” at the time, because it had two different versions of the same story.

It was a unique way to get two characters’ unique perspectives on a story across. But it inevitably led to repetition as you had to go through multiple playthroughs to see multiple things. We want to have a more efficient way of having players see everything in the game. So we have kind of mashed up and combined the A and B stories of each character into one, so you can choose from Claire’s campaign or Leon’s campaign and see both parts of the story that way. It’s a creative decision but it’s complicated because you have to find a way not just to recreate the structure of the original game, but to look at what that structure was achieving in terms of experience and emotion, and to retrace that back and figure out how to get that same experience today with this structure.

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